Murder-Suicide. That was the official rumor as to how the Darlings of the city had died. A lavish love affair turned sordid, only no one knew who killed the other. It was one thing for the daughter of a CEO to die suddenly, to be found a few days later dead by bleeding out. It was another to find her dead twice, with the young upstart in the world of business, son of their rival company. Traces of poison were on her lips as well in the system of her lover. It was his knife, but he died from poison. She died from a knife wound (this time, she was dead for sure).
Yet, no one knew who died when. Or why her cousin was dead as well. Or why… well, a lot of people died when connected to the two families. They weren’t exactly on the same side. They held the city in the palm of their hand like the territory they lived on were castles, and all the land they could see was their kingdom. Lots of people had died with connections to the two families, in recent months. Some even said that the two had planned to fake their deaths and were killed by a third, making it a double homicide. All Jules knew was that it could not be this easy.
Jules… she wasn’t sure that she liked the name. Julia? Jewel? She could just use her real name, but then would that not go against the principle of it all? She needed to discard the identity in total, that was what she needed to do. A new name, and she needed to bleach her hair.
Luna? Too romantic. Anne? Too simple.
A black car rolled by, slick, smooth, expensive. The sort of car that she used to step out of without blinking. The sort of car that screamed…
“We can’t stay here for too long.” His voice was lost without his accent, although it tried to peak through. It was without the charm, the edge, the danger and allure. Perhaps it was for the best. He was supposed to be dead and his charming voice was not supposed to be recognizable. Nor were his eyes and hair. He’d done a messy job of the hair, dying it black, as if that would solve all his problems. He was a blonde, he should have gone red, at least that they could die easily enough and it wouldn’t fade. His eyes were red from the contacts but the brown lenses looked natural enough and with the glasses he had laid over his face he looked different.
He wore a hoodie not a jacket, sweats not slacks, running shoes that looked second hand, and gloves to hide his hands. He was better at makeup than she was, it was a skill he boasted about. One that she had never expected to be true, yet his nose looked different, his skin was dusted in freckles, and he had a paler complexion.
“Mercedes.” She told him.
“You saw one?” His eyes darted to the mirror behind her.
“Not your family. My name. Mercedes. Do you think it could work?”
“You are not a Mercedes.”
“I’m also not supposed to be alive, so I figure I’m doing well.” She stood, grabbing the bag that they had packed, off the floor. It was filled with money, money that they had been packing away for years. They had not known each other for years, not formally. In fact they’d only known each other for a few days, but they had been the other’s way out, and now they were tied to each other. “Murder-suicide. You know? Or a double homicide, depends who you ask. Very gruesome, a tragedy.”
“Don’t say that please.” He groaned. “Good wig.”
“Thanks. Nice contacts.”
“You are not an Anderson.” She hated the name on him. “Besides that’s a last name.”
“And Mercedes is a car.” He rolled his eyes offering to hold the money bag. She handed it to him and tossed her supplies backpack over her shoulder. This was all they had. A few bags of food, and supplies plus disguises, and one massive bag of cash that they’d decided to share together. Share, that was, until one of them decided to finish the other off to hide their secret. Two heirs, thought dead, on the run from their families with all the knowledge of an insider. Two heirs who had been planning since they were children to run away on their own, only to coincidentally meet by accident and discover the other’s truth. Two heirs who had conspired the ultimate heist, and went out of their way to ensure that they got out.
“You going to miss my cousin?” Mercedes asked Anderson. “She was pretty.”
“She was beautiful, great companionship–” Mercedes snorted at his answer and he did not pay it any heed. “But it will be fine. This is far more worth it.”
“Is it? Your best friend died.”
“And your cousin died.”
He didn’t just die, she wanted to say, I killed him. “Death is a messy business.”
They walked towards the bus stop, something neither of them had ever taken, but they were about to learn.
“Who do you think was the killer? Which one of us will they say?” He asked with a chuckle in his throat.
“Me.” She decided. “Because I died once already.”
“Yes, but your first death was to escape their clutches. Your note said so. Finding us dead together, it would obviously be me who killed you to keep you there.”
“No one falls in love in three days, no matter how much we tried to pretend. Its not possible — Anderson.” She hesitated with the name. “I really do hate Anderson. It feels… It’s not you.”
“Don’t worry Mercedes. None of this is ‘me’ and that’s perhaps what makes it so great.” They stopped walking. The bus had to be coming soon, she hoped. They needed to get to a hide this money, and find a place to live.
Mercedes could hear the feint call of news reports speaking about their deaths and the mystery around them.
“We have thirty days, you know that.” She whispered to him, taking his arm in her’s. It was a calculated move that had his glancing at her and rolling his eyes. She knew the game, pressing him close to her and starring at him with wide eyes. “That’s when they will find us.”
“We are already ghosts, love, what more could you want?” His accent slipped then, thick, heavy, sexy, him. Her heart fluttered and she was sure, he knew the game.
“Freedom.” She reminded him as she stepped away. “Freedom to choose.”
“We will have freedom to choose.” His fake accent was back. Anderson was back. “Thirty days? We can do it.”
Thirty days was an estimate, giving them too much benefit. Their parents would have the autopsy results and would see that they were not who they were supposed to be. Their families would declare war on each other, and then they’d begin the hunt. They’d hunt Mercedes and Anderson down. Which ever family found them first was the death sentence for the other.
Thirty days to expose them. Thirty days to survive. Thirty days to find out who they wanted to be, and to burn their families down. Thirty days if they were lucky.
The bus pulled up and Mercedes got on first, leather jacket billowing behind her as she stepped up after a person and paid for their passes in cash from her pockets. As she walked on the bus and sat she could feel the metal behind her back, press up against her, under the jacket, her safety.
It was suicide to have run from their families, and all that left them was murder to protect themselves. Mercedes glanced at Anderson who sat next to her, relaxing into his seat as if he did not have a gun of his own, knives, weapons of sorts, hidden under his sleeves and clothes. Three days was not enough to fall in love, but thirty was more than enough to find all the weakness in Anderson that she could. If freedom was what she wanted, then freedom was what she would get. If one of them had to die, it would not be her. The first to catch feelings was the first to get hurt, and her father had raised her to always win.